I thought I had happily retired from the chaotic life of a full-time musician many years ago to nestle into the luxurious, sedentary lifestyle of a music writer. But with a new CD coming out soon, out-of-town dates are being booked, the first I've played away from SoCal in many years. It all gives one pause to reflect on past glories and the possibility of future achievement.
The first touring I did was way back in 1985, in the Beat Farmers. New on the scene and endeavoring to prove ourselves, we bit many a bullet. Staying in the most godawful, festering, shithole excuses for motel rooms imaginable all over the country was our lot. You'd pull back your bedclothes to find blood- and piss-stained sheets. Greasy, black rings studded with pubic hairs lined the bathtubs. All manner of vermin scurried nonchalantly about the room. Let us say nothing of the toilets.
Complaining about such conditions to maids or managers inevitably netted anything from icy stares of disdain to "You think you're staying in the Ritz-Carlton?" When your room costs $20 per night, you're expected to embrace human grime.
Something had to give—steam vented, revenge exacted. By now, motel-room trashing was already a well-worn rock-star clich, so the band devised a more insidious way to make our statement:
Clams hidden in every unlikely nook and cranny of the room, left to rot and reek like Chris Farley's browneye and drive foul-tempered maids to fits of pique. Clams left in heater vents and in lamp glasses, deposited behind cheap-framed lithos and in the backs of dresser drawers. Clams inserted beneath carpeting, behind light switches, even into the mouthpieces of telephones. It could take months before every decomposing nugget of putrid mollusk meat was discovered, a fine payback for fucking with the Farmers.
The late Country Dick Montana was the master of motel mayhem. One particularly nasty experience in a Berkeley establishment with a maid who had all the charm of a rabid wolverine called for drastic measures, and he delivered in spades. There's no way to put this gracefully: Dick pulled the mattress off the bed, defecated on the box spring and replaced the mattress. How's that for commentary on the service? He took a Polaroid of his handiwork for posterity. Can you imagine this abusive cleaning lady trying to determine the genesis of the godawful stench? Can you imagine the shriek of horror when she finally figured it out?
Dick's coup de grace came after I left the band, but the incident is legendary. In a true stroke of inspiration, Dick took a shit on a ceramic platter, adorned it with condiments from the bar, and left his work of art on a shelf in the closet. What did the cleaning crew think when they found a giant bowel movement festively decorated with sprigs of parsley, lemon wedges and maraschino cherries? Sadly, one can only speculate.
Then there's the roadie problem. It figures that anyone willing to work for peanuts and live in vans and greasy motels for the honor of toting thousands of pounds of some band's gear around on his back ain't gonna be the most sophisticated guy you'll ever meet. But sometimes they regress to really disturbing stages of human evolution. Such was the case with Lightnin' Lance Waterdawg, roadie for my band the Jacks.
Lance had a problem with laundry —he refused to wash it. The band would journey to a laundromat every now and then while on the road, but Lance would have none of that. Too much of a pain in the ass. His solution was to line up his befouled clothes on the floor of the motel room every night and air them out. This resulted in much intraband fighting about who would have to room with Lance.
Then there was his boogerfruit guitar. Lance brought a little acoustic axe on the road with him, and every night, he would pick his nose and spear the boogers on the end of the guitar strings. After a couple of weeks, each string had a perfectly rounded ball of hardened, opaque-green boogerfruit dangling from it. Revolting as it was, you had to grudgingly admire the boy's patience and fortitude.
You meet the strangest people on the road. Between dates in Oslo and Bergen, we once played a tiny Norwegian town called Mo I Rana, which, it turned out, was the Scandinavian equivalent of Tombstone or Deadwood. People were already shit-drunk when we arrived at the club. They were falling off barstools, smashing glasses, thwacking one another about. They actually had a local custom whereby if you drank too much, you went outside, stuck your finger down your throat and puked, so as to accommodate the consumption of more beer. We saw this custom practiced repeatedly during our stay in Norway. Actually, we had a great time playing for those yahoo fishbreaths in Mo I Rana; they really loved us. Too much. After the gig, this giant, musclebound Aryan behemoth, a dead ringer for Arnie Schwarzenegger, invited me to his house for a party. A private party. I politely declined, telling him we had to catch a flight in the morning. He was insistent, though. I kept declining, and finally he offered me $500. For this private party. Uhhhh—now I was starting to get the idea something was amiss. This was borne out when Arnie started shoving my girlfriend around and calling her foul names. Seems she was muscling in on his action. Arnie, it turned out, was determined to ream out poor ol' Buddy's poop chute. I grabbed my girlfriend and beat a hasty retreat to our hotel. Arnie then propositioned everybody else in the band—one at a time. We slept fitfully that night, our doors locked tightly.
You don't eat healthy food on the road. You consume whatever you can get whenever you can get it because it ain't like you have a refrigerator to raid at your disposal. And there are consequences for these bad dining opportunities. After one gig, we set out to drive to the next town, stopping at a convenience store to gas up. Starving, I scarfed a couple of shriveled-up, dried-out convenience-store hot dogs that looked to have been sitting on those heated rollers for the past 12 hours or so. Then I went to sleep in the back of the van. About two hours later, I woke up, stricken by food poisoning, guts roiling as if I had eaten 10 pounds of strychnine. "PULL OVER!" I screamed. "I'M SICK!"
"Hey, man, can't you wait till we get off at the next exit?" replied a band mate. "I don't wanna stop in the middle of the freeway."
"PULL OVER RIGHT NOW, MOTHERFUCKER!!!"
It was pouring rain, but I jumped out of the van and ran to a steep, ice-plant-covered embankment, sliding down the hill like Ty Cobb stealing home. As I pooted my innards out amid grunts and groans of sheer agony, the band collected at the top of the hill to take in a show they found eminently amusing. They had umbrellas to shield them from the rain and flashlights to illuminate my predicament, as I squatted, pantsless, shivering, soaked and shitting in the ice plants. How yoomiliatin'. Even today, their cruel laughter rings in my ears. Good thing they didn't have cameras.
Making my way back up the hill, I slipped in the wet ice plant and went tumbling back down to the bottom of the embankment, rolling though my own pile of liquid turd in the process. This the band found absolutely hysterical. I don't believe they stopped laughing at my expense for the next week straight, and to this day, they're likely to recall that black night amid terrific glee whenever they run into me.
Yes, a life on the road as a touring musician is one of untold glamour and excitement. I can hardly wait till my next CD comes out, so I can experience this life of thrills and celebrity all over again.
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